Last week, multiple news outlets reported President Obama would be signing an executive order — possibly this week — that would protect 5 million immigrants from deportation. Among them are people not unlike the parents of actress Diane Guerrero, who were deported when Guerrero was 14 years old.
Guerrero has the good fortune to be on two highly-regarded television shows. She plays Maritza on “Orange is the New Black” and Lina on “Jane the Virgin.” But Monday morning, Guerrero appeared on CNN’s “New Day” to discuss the experiences she wrote about in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times as an American citizen whose immigrant parents and brother were sent back to Colombia when she was in high school. Guerrero, a volunteer for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, wrote she lived in fear of the day her parents would be deported, then described the afternoon it happened:
I came home from school to an empty house. Lights were on and dinner had been started, but my family wasn’t there. Neighbors broke the news that my parents had been taken away by immigration officers, and just like that, my stable family life was over.
Not a single person at any level of government took any note of me. No one checked to see if I had a place to live or food to eat, and at 14, I found myself basically on my own.
While awaiting deportation proceedings, my parents remained in detention near Boston, so I could visit them. They would have liked to fight deportation, but without a lawyer and an immigration system that rarely gives judges the discretion to allow families to stay together, they never had a chance. Finally, they agreed for me to continue my education at Boston Arts Academy, a performing arts high school, and the parents of friends graciously took me in.
Guerrero sat for an emotional interview Monday with CNN’s Michaela Pereira. She began to choke up as she talked about the toll separation from her parents and brother had on their relationship. Guerrero visits her family in Colombia once a year.
“We’ve been separated for so long I feel like sometimes we don’t know each other,” Guerrero said. “It’s difficult because I’ve grown up without them and there are things about them that are new that I don’t recognize and it hurts. I just love them so much and I hate that they have gone through this. I know I have been by myself but I feel like they have lived a very lonely existence.”
While Guerrero wrote that she wants to see fair and comprehensive immigration reform from Congress, her op-ed urged Obama to act as quickly as possible to avoid creating more situations like the one she faced. Her parents tried desperately to obtain legal status, she said, but couldn’t.
“This system didn’t offer relief for them,” Guerrero told Pereira. “What I’m asking for is to create or find a solution for families.”